The Minnesota Vikings are 3-2, just one game out of the top spot in the NFC North. They just won at Soldier Field in primetime, a feat that occurs roughly once in a cicada life cycle. They won despite gaining only 55 yards in the first half, switching quarterbacks mid-game, and allowing a touchdown on a fake punt. Winning games when that many things go wrong is a sign of a strong team.
By 3:30 PM on Sunday afternoon, they could be in first. This week, the Vikings are playing their biggest game of the season thus far against their hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers. The annual border battles always provide an electric atmosphere. Everson Griffen is already using the words “crunk”, “live”, and “rumble” to describe the game and we’re still three days away from kickoff. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and few fan bases are more familiar with each other than those of the Vikings and Packers. This should be one of the most exciting weeks of the season.
So why do I feel...I don’t know...a little bummed out?
Maybe it’s because my second favorite team in all of sports, the United States men’s national soccer team, completely crapped the bed and missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Even worse, they collapsed in such epic fashion that it was literally compared to the 2003 Vikings.
Perhaps I’m a little crestfallen because it’s now impossible to talk about NFL football without veering into long discussions about the national anthem and other depressing off-field issues that have nothing to do with the actual games. I miss the days where every highlight wasn’t prefaced by politics.
Could it be that I’m a bit despondent because watching football even seems to be slightly less enjoyable these days? Superstar players keep getting hurt at an alarming rate. Odell Beckham Jr. and J.J. Watt, two of the most popular and marketable players in the league, both suffered season-ending injuries last week. As we can attest here in Minnesota, the “next man up” philosophy can get real old in a hurry. Ask anyone that drafted David Johnson, Greg Olsen, or Beckham how fun fantasy football is this year. Of course injuries in football are nothing new, but we know so much more about the ominous long-term effects of them now. All these factors are combining to make my outlook a little drearier than it should be this week.
OK, that’s not entirely true.
I have to admit that I’m bummed out mostly because Aaron Rodgers is coming to town again.
Sunday will mark the 19th time that Rodgers takes the field against my favorite team as a member of my least favorite team. He has won two-thirds of his career games against the Vikings, throwing 39 touchdowns against only six interceptions while completing 68.3% of his passes for a 112.1 quarterback rating. Even though the Vikings sack him 3.1 times per game (21 more times than any other opponent), he usually finds a way to pull something out of his ass regardless of his supporting cast. At this point even the most ardent Vikings fans have to concede that Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks who has ever played. Sure, you can still hate on him for being a smug prick, or for his not-so-subtle trolling, or for his endless string of cheesy commercials that air every Sunday. These are all valid complaints, especially for Vikings fans. But there’s no denying that Rodgers is really freaking good at football.
To put it in the context of a movie that came out 13 years ago, Aaron Rodgers is the Ron Burgundy to our Wes Mantooth.
So yeah, that’s why I’m a little bummed out this week. I’m bummed that Aaron Rodgers is still on the Packers and he’ll be on the Packers for the foreseeable future. To make things worse, he might playing better than ever this year. Green Bay has already been without their top wideout, their top running back, and their top several tackles for stretches this year. Yet they come into U.S. Bank Stadium leading the division at 4-1, mostly because of that guy under center. Rodgers is a quarterbacking wizard; nobody is better at improvising and throwing on the run when the pocket breaks down.
Although the Vikings should be breaking down the pocket plenty with their pass rush on Sunday, I’m bummed that Green Bay’s offensive line is starting to get healthier after a injury-riddled start to the season. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga returned last week against the Cowboys and left tackle David Bakhtiari could be back after missing the past four games with a hamstring injury. Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and Brian Robison might find it a little tougher to get into the backfield than we originally expected.
The Packers might be getting healthier at running back as well. Ty Montgomery seems to be on track to return from the rib injury he suffered against the Bears. But even if Montgomery can’t go, I’m bummed that the Packers always seem to keep finding productive running backs out of nowhere. Remember, Montgomery is Green Bay’s main running back only because he was a fill-in for another injured player. Last week, Aaron Jones was a more than capable substitute against the Cowboys. Jones showed some very good quickness and vision en route to 134 total yards and a touchdown on 20 touches. Even if Montgomery can go, don’t be surprised to see Jones take a lot of his snaps. He’s good.
I’d be a lot more bummed if the Vikings run defense was anywhere near as bad as it is in Dallas without Sean Lee. The Cowboys linebackers and secondary were confused all day by the Packers’ play action and misdirection. Since the Cowboys were getting consistently gashed by Jones, they seemed to have no idea what was coming next.
Linval Joseph anchors a swarming Vikings run defense that’s giving up only 3.3 yards per carry. Anthony Barr is having the bounce-back year we were all hoping for. Outside of some rough spots in the Detroit game, the Vikings have been very sound with their tackling. No matter who’s running the ball, I don’t expect Green Bay to repeat their 6.4 yards per carry performance they had in Dallas.
However, I’m really bummed that I could see Rodgers carving up the Vikings secondary if he has (or creates) enough time. Not against Xavier Rhodes, who wasn’t even targeted last week in Chicago. That other guy on the outside.
Trae Waynes got lucky on this play because it was called back for holding. But getting beat on a corner route when he started with outside position and obviously had help in the middle—by international superstar Tre McBride, no less—just can’t happen. Waynes was the hero of last year’s home Packers game with his game-clinching interception, but he was a big reason why the Vikings needed a game-clinching interception in the first place. If Rhodes is on Jordy Nelson most of the day, I could see Davante Adams earning a contract extension based on his performance in this game alone. Waynes needs to be much more than just a good tackler on Sunday.
On the other side of the ball, I’m bummed that the Vikings could be down their best player in three different offensive position groups on Sunday. If this game took place a few weeks later, we could be getting ready for Teddy Bridgewater to make his highly anticipated return. Or we might be getting a much less hobbled Sam Bradford than we saw on Monday. Instead, it looks like we’ll have another start from the third option at quarterback, Case Keenum. That’s not to say all is lost; Keenum has already proven that he can lead the offense well and the team seems to be rallying behind him. He shouldn’t be the greatest cause of concern for any Vikings fan.
What should be a concern is the status of Stefon Diggs, who was sidelined with a groin injury in Chicago and didn’t practice on Wednesday. The Vikings are already missing their top running back and quarterback(s); they can ill afford to lose their top wide receiver for such a big game.
If Diggs is limited or misses the game altogether, perhaps this could be Michael Floyd’s coming out party as a member of the Vikings? Statistically the Packers have been pretty stout against the pass thus far, but analytics aren’t as high on them. Football Outsiders has them ranked 19th against the pass. Pro Football Focus has every member of Green Bay’s secondary except slot corner Morgan Burnett rated in the 40’s on their 100-point scale. Based on the few games of film I watched, there will be chunks of yards available to the Vikings receivers.
The biggest bummer for the Vikings offensively might be getting robbed of the chance to see Dalvin Cook go against a Packers defense that’s allowing over 120 yards per game on the ground. Mike Daniels looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate after Week 1, but missed most of the next three weeks and didn’t make nearly as much of an impact against the Cowboys. But even if the Vikings ground game can consistently get through the defensive line, breaking past the second level could be tough. Blake Martinez has been excellent all season against the run. The Vikings offensive line will have to account for him in the middle.
And unlike last year, it’s feasible to think the line might be able to accomplish that task. They’re actually decent this season! It’s a bummer that the skill position players keep getting hurt, but it is definitely nice to know that the backups should actually have room to operate from time to time. Nick Easton might miss Sunday’s game after finally putting together a solid game against the Bears, but hopefully the difference between Easton and backup Jeremiah Sirles won’t be incredibly significant.
Speaking of backups, it was promising to see Jerick McKinnon have such a productive game in Chicago. Pat Shurmur seems to have a pretty good grasp of how to but Jet in positions to succeed. If McKinnon can excel again, it will ease the pressure on Keenum and keep the offense more unpredictable. The last thing the Vikings want is Nick Perry and that other guy with the stupid hair and the commercials to pin their ears back and keep disrupting things off the edge.
After attending the first three home games of the season, I’m bummed that it looks like I won’t see this game in person. Since I’m watching on TV, I’m bummed that we won’t get Joe Buck, who is on his annual hiatus to announce the baseball playoffs.
Yes, you read that correctly. I actually like Buck overall; I think he has significantly improved as a football announcer since the “disgusting act” days. Games feel more important when he’s involved. Even if you absolutely loathe him—and I know there are a ton of you that fall in that category—it’s still kind of fun to roll your eyes and yell at the TV every time he gushes about Rodgers. If this game goes south for the Vikings, hating on everything Thom Brennaman says just doesn’t have the same appeal.
I’ll be extremely bummed if this game gets out of hand, but I really don’t think it will. This should be a great matchup. Rodgers has a Ph.D in extending drives, but the Vikings are the best in the league at preventing third down conversions. Mike Zimmer and George Edwards have already proven that they can disguise coverages well enough to keep Rodgers from lighting up the scoreboard. According to Football Outsiders DVOA, the Packers and Vikings are very even through the first five weeks. This has all the makings of an entertaining and closely contested rivalry game. It will likely come down to the old cliches of executing more efficiently and avoiding the costly mistakes.
But I keep coming back to the guy that bummed me out in the first place. Rodgers is incredibly tough to stop for 60 minutes, which makes the margins for error razor thin. If the Vikings had all their offensive weapons available, I’d feel better about their chances. Unfortunately, I’m going to be even more of a bummer and pick the Vikings to come up just short on Sunday.
Packers 24, Vikings 17
And now for the rest of my Week 6 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
PANTHERS over Eagles
It’s a bummer that I can’t make my usual snarky joke about how awful the Thursday night game is. This is actually a great matchup between the NFC’s two most surprising teams.
FALCONS over Dolphins
I’m bummed that I have already lost twice in five weeks with my Survivor Pool picks. Because I’m pretty certain that Atlanta will take care of business against Jay Cutler, one of the biggest bummers in the history of the NFL.
RAVENS over Bears
I’m bummed that nobody will be able to figure out whether Mitchell Trubisky is actually good because he doesn’t have anyone to throw to. I’m also bummed that Mike Wallace is still making plays he never made in Minnesota.
TEXANS over Browns
I’m bummed that no matter how bad the Vikings quarterback situation gets, we’ll never be able to complain as much as Browns fans.
SAINTS over Lions
I’m bummed that New Orleans finally came to their senses and traded Adrian Peterson. It was one of my favorite sources of schadenfreude in a long time.
Patriots over JETS
I’m bummed that this will probably be the last week we can tweet out a screenshot of the AFC East standings with the “eyes” emoji to show how crazy it is that these two teams have the same record.
REDSKINS over 49ers
I’m bummed that Kirk Cousins’ name is already getting thrown around as a possibility for the Vikings next year. I think Cousins is fine, but he’s going to be ridiculously expensive and I just want Teddy back.
Rams over JAGUARS
I’m bummed that Jacksonville figured out that simply removing Blake Bortles from their offense and leaning on their amazing defense gave them the best chance to win. It’s a lot harder to make fun of him when he’s only throwing a dozen times a game.
Buccaneers over CARDINALS
I’m bummed that it isn’t 2009. If it was, the combination of Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, and Adrian Peterson all on the same team would be AMAZING to watch.
CHIEFS over Steelers
I’m bummed that the line on this game has Kansas City as only a 3-point favorite. I mean, has Vegas seen Ben Roethlisberger and the inexplicably sputtering Pittsburgh offense lately? I thought picking the Chiefs here was a sure thing, but now I feel like something’s up.
RAIDERS over Chargers
I’m bummed that I have to make this pick on Wednesday night without knowing whether Derek Carr is going to play.
BRONCOS over Giants
I’m bummed that we’re almost out of time to laugh at Ben McAdoo.
TITANS over Colts
I’m bummed that we could have had Marcus Mariota vs. Andrew Luck and now we might get Matt Cassel vs. Jacoby Brissett.
Last week: 8-6
Season so far: 43-34